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May 30, 2024

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued the AI and Energy: Opportunities for a Modern Grid and Clean Energy Economy report

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued the AI and Energy: Opportunities for a Modern Grid and Clean Energy Economy report, a report that comes on the heels of a Biden administration executive order relating to the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI). As a result, AI is destined to influence power generation for at least the next few decades.

The big question is, how? Pursuing AI in power generation has two main goals: modernizing the grid and transitioning to renewable energy to the greatest degree possible. DOE officials are convinced that AI should be part of the equation for future power generation.

Making the Grid Smarter

U.S. power generation has long been hampered by a grid that was never designed to handle the workload it is now tasked with. We have made upgrades and modifications here and there, but the entire grid needs a serious overhaul. AI is going to play a key role when it finally happens.

At the current time, sensors deployed across the entire grid deliver an overwhelming amount of information that remains largely underutilized. The system is essentially choking on big data. One of the DOE's goals is to deploy AI that can effectively analyze and utilize the data. It should lead to faster and more informed decisions relating to grid management.

Another potential plus for AI in making the grid smarter is the development of predictive maintenance. AI is already being deployed in healthcare to predict disease and outcomes. It can be deployed the same way in the energy sector. AI can analyze sensor data to predict potential equipment failures. It can be leveraged to schedule routine maintenance that improves grid reliability.

Optimizing Renewable Sources

Modernizing the grid is absolutely essential regardless of where our energy is sourced from. But truth be told, renewables are catching up to – and even surpassing in some cases – fossil fuel energy sources. It is the perfect time to introduce AI to optimize renewables.

For example, AI can do a better job of forecasting both weather patterns and the power generation they affect. Through predictive analysis, a more seamless integration between renewable and traditional energy sources creates a more stable grid.

More importantly is the potential AI has in the energy storage space. As storage solutions improve, AI is being deployed to make them more efficient. Through AI we are learning how to store excess renewable energy during peak production times and more efficiently release it when demand is high.

Benefits and Challenges

It stands to reason that there are both benefits and challenges to bringing AI to power generation. Among the benefits are increased efficiency, better use of renewable energy sources, and long-term cost savings. The benefit of a modernized and more stable grid is invaluable.

Still, there are challenges. At the top of the list is data security. No doubt that threat actors will launch attacks against an AI-enabled grid for whatever reason. We are going to need a more robust cybersecurity toolkit to fend them off.

Let us not forget human operators in all of this. As exciting and beneficial as AI can be, another big challenge is making sure that humans understand AI decisions so that when human intervention is necessary, operators are prepared to do what needs to be done.

There is a lot more to be said about AI's potential to influence power generation. Needless to say, now is an exciting time to be in the energy sector. The next few decades should be equally exciting, thanks to AI.

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